240. Patty’s Visit

“Riah!
I just dropped by.”
You never do, thought Riah.
I always go to your house.
But come in.

Patty entered, gingerly,
Gloves tucked beneath her arm,
And had a look around.
Dishes on the table–
All unwashed.
Overalls and shirts,
Tossed in the corner.
Patty, who had been there
Once before, wondered
At this messiness.
Not Riah’s way.

And Riah, not her normal
Upright self, but
Crumpled almost,
Slumped in faded chair,
Sat with a rancid-smelling cup,
Its glazing webbed
In hairline cracks–
One of those homemade coffees,
Patty thought, from nuts or
Berries, not the real–
“Riah–Tom, I think,
Wants me to speak to you.”
Riah sipped, unmoving.
“Did he say?”
“Well, no, he didn’t.”
Patty, gingerly,
Brushed off her chair.
“It seems, however….
You’re a bit disturbed.”

Riah took another drink.
She blew a curl of steam.
“Yes.”
Patty’s rapid nodding:
“As I thought.”
She leaned forward.
“Riah–you believe
There’s evil in the world?”
Riah swallowed, her face
Hidden by her cup:
“How come, all the sudden,
Folks so anxious to hear
How I figure things?
Never was before.”
Patty pursed her lips.
“Yes,” Riah sighed. “I do.”

Patty nodded once again.
“Well then, if there’s evil,
It’s got power–strength.
The powers of Dark are strong.
And Riah, who are we?
We’re sinful mortals.
We make mistakes.
We never understand”–
More bitter than before,
This coffee, Riah thought,
And squinting, swallowed hard.
“–So evil must be shut up. Like–
Insane asylums–” Riah glanced away.
“–The polio–consumptives.
Build a righteous wall for safety.
Life’s a battle,
Every minute, Riah.”

At this, Riah looked up:
“Yes. It is.”
Patty’s little fist
Came down. “We need
Some defense, then!
Some protection!”
“Yes.”
“All kinds of dangers out there.
Everything we see, we hear–
Temptation.
Danger.”
“Yes.”
“Each weary day,
We’re longing to be safe. Like
Children, like scared sheep,
Like Jesus says.”
“Yes.”
“So let yourself be guided
By what’s holy.
Wall the goats away.
If thine eye offend thee,
Pluck it out–”
Riah jerked back,
Patty noted with surprise–
“Jesus says He’s coming
With a dagger. Families must
Divide, if some don’t
Believe.”

Patty drew a breath.
“About that Mrs. Kemp–
Now, Riah, you’ve been kind.
I admire that in you. I truly do.
But tell me, honest–are you
Sure about her? Can she be
A Bible-fearing woman?
Can you look me in the face,
And tell me that?”
Riah set her cup down.
“No.”
“You honestly approve
Of what she did?”
“No.”
“Should she escape scot-free?”
“No.”
“Him, the man she tempted,
You feel for his wife?”
“Yes. I do.”

“Riah, then,
Can I go back to town
And tell them you agree
The woman should be churched?”
Riah took one sip.
And then another.
Then a third.
“Yes.”

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